Many people attending yoga classes today do so for the physical benefits. Often the additional effects of calming the mind and tuning the inner processes of the body are an added bonus. This differs greatly from how yoga students in Eastern cultures practice yoga; as a way of life not just an hourly class for three times a week. The popularity and growth of yoga in the UK has moved along at a rapid pace with new studios and styles of classes appearing. There’s something for everyone’s tastes and personal preferences from sweating it all out in a hot power class to soothing and unwinding in a gentle restorative class.
Stretching or calisthenics may look similar to yoga on the surface but delving deeper below the initial impressions and appearances there is a great difference. Calisthenics are an aerobic workout of stretches and movements, such as bending, jumping, swinging, twisting or kicking, using only one’s body weight for resistance, designed to challenge the cardiovascular system and burn energy to build strength and flexibility. Routines are often used as a warm up before any sporting activity. The movements are performed in a rhythmical way, often to music, with a smooth transition between each move. They are designed to get the body warmed up and the heart rate increased ready for intense, high energy sport or exercise.
Whilst yoga increases muscular strength and flexibility the practice doesn’t stop with the physical effects. Yoga (meaning to join together or union) aims to integrate the body, mind and spirit using physical postures, the breath and the mind. Yoga goes beyond purely burning calories and toning the body. Yoga is a philosophy, a spiritual path and moral and ethical framework. Yoga is an examination of the self or soul. The philosophy behind yoga explains human existence in terms of energy – physical energy in the body from cellular processes, mental energy that is sensory, emotional and intelligence and spiritual energy or prana that is distributed throughout the body and connects the physical to the mental and mental to the spiritual.
The practice of yoga allows the body to fine tune its performance and for the physiological systems to function correctly. Yoga postures (asana) and breathing practices (pranayama) allow the body to open up in certain ways, sending blood, energy and other fluids are sent to the muscles and organs. Asana and pranayama are the foundations of yoga that link the body to the mind and the soul. They work together to provide a basis for providing the body what it needs perform at its best. Both of these practices are seen as a foundation to prepare the body and mind for meditation and moving closer to connecting with the soul and your true self.
A regular yoga practice has many health benefits for both body and mind such as reduced blood pressure, lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, reduced body fat, improved cognitive function, better mood regulation and emotional stability, increased flexibility and a better ability to manage chronic pain. These benefits pave the way for good health, improved emotional wellbeing and that sense of wanting to delve in to something a little deeper. That spiritual, soulful side of yoga that has a way of working its way in to your practice and daily activities. As one of the most influential yoga teachers, BKS Iyengar once stated ” Yoga is a light that once lit, will never dim.”
Yoga can change your life. It has been around for thousands of years, but only now have we discovered the benefits of practising yoga on a regular basis. We often use the excuse that we are ‘too busy’ to find the time for yoga in our daily lives but yoga is so much more than just asana (practising yoga positions and postures).
One of the common misconceptions about yoga is that in order to ‘do’ yoga, you have to go to an hour and a half long class at a studio. But that’s far from the truth. There are so many ways you can incorporate yoga into your daily life, whether it be living in the moment, focusing on your breath or stretching on your lunch break at work, make time for yoga and you will soon see the amazing benefits that everyone has been talking about.
Here are a few ways you can make yoga a part of your life every day:
If there is one main thing yoga teaches you, it is to live in the present moment. Every moment you spend on the mat, you are learning to be more patient, compassionate, dedicated and kind. To take those lessons you learn and incorporate them into your daily life, you need to learn to be mindful. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds, honest. Learn to step back and appreciate the smallest moments of your life, become aware of how your mind works, be concious of all of your actions in different situations and work towards being the best version of yourself.
Most of us don’t pay attention to our breathing pattern. Having a shallow breath can cause anxiety and stress and trigger other physical sensations in the body and many of us are unconsciously breathing this way. Find time in the day to try a few full, deep and mindful breaths. Start by breathing in through your nose, making sure you breathe from your diaphragm, not your chest. Count to four, hold for seven and breathe out slowly for eight. Being in tune with your breath is essential for yoga practice. Pranayama is a type of yogic breath awareness and regulation exercise designed to help control one’s vital energy. Notice how calm and centred you feel after just a few mindful breaths.
Spending more time outside will allow you to connect with everything around you. The word ‘yoga’ means union. Nature will teach you everything you need to know about learning to let go and appreciate what is around you. In modern life, it can be difficult to disconnect and truly be. If you feel you have lost the deep connection between you and the earth, step outside, breathe and observe everything around you. You can do some yoga outside if you find the perfect spot, or you can do yoga inside and have the curtains open so the sun can shine in.
Practice Five-Minute Meditation Every Day
The word ‘meditation’ can often fill people with dread, they will say that they ‘can’t meditate.’ It’s hard to still the mind and it takes a lot of practice. Start by spending five minutes each day in silence. You don’t have sit in any unusual pose, you don’t even have to close your eyes. Just focus on your breath and try to silence your mind for five minutes each day, preferably in the morning. Once you feel comfortable doing five minutes each day, slowly increase it and let all of your troubles melt around you.
Stretch It Out
The great thing about stretching is you can do it anywhere! Don’t think that the yoga mat is the only place you can practice. Try stretching on your lunch break at work, do a few twists in your office chair. Start the morning off by doing a quick full body stretch before you get in the shower. By doing a simple back arch, you can stretch tired muscles and eliminate physical and mental fatigue.
It’s that time of year again, where we pile up our plates with multiple pancakes. How do you like yours? Flat with lots of yummy and gooey toppings spread all over? Sprinkled with flavoursome goods and rolled up to be deliciously devoured?
With the current trends for healthy eating, pancakes have become a popular option. Lots of different and tasty variations to choose from. Before we delve into the options, let us just remember for a minute what Pancake Day is all about.
There is a lot more to Pancake Day than seeing how high you can flip your pancake without dropping it. The official name for the day is Shrove Tuesday and it is the last day before Lent. It’s a Christian tradition to focus on what we need to change, a day of reflection, to confess our sins. I quite like the idea that a day has been reserved specifically to assess the areas of our lives that can be improved and we can seek possibilities for growth.
The more traditional approach to Shrove Tuesday is the indulgence of rich and fatty foods. As part of the fasting and other religious obligations of Lent, these are things that are given up for the forty-day period. So it became, that all these types of foods were used up from the pantry. Eggs, sugar and flour being the main culprits. I guess it’s the same as eating the last of the mince pies after Christmas before starting your nine-day detox!
Here are two delicious ways you can have your pancakes:
• 110g plain flour
• 2 eggs
• 200ml Semi skimmed milk
• 75ml water
• Pinch of salt
Sift the flour into a separate bowl. In a jug, measure out the milk and top up with the water. Add the pinch of salt. Crack the egg into the jug with the milk mixture.
Slowly whisk up the mixture, adding a bit of flour at a time until all is combined to a thick consistency. Cover the jug with some cling film and leave it to stand for 30 minutes.
Come back to the mixture and whisk it through again. Heat the pan with a tsp of coconut oil. Pour the mixture in to the pan, just enough to coat the bottom. It is a case of using your own judgement with this.
Leave for a couple of minutes before turning over or flipping them. Everyone has their own preference to the way
they like their pancakes. If it is your first attempt, a lot of trial and error is involved, but really good fun.
Buttered Up Version.
• 140g wholemeal spelt flour
• 1tsp gluten-free baking powder
• ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 1 egg
• 225ml butter milk
Sift the spelt flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a bowl. Add the egg and the buttermilk, mixing together the ingredients with an electric mixer to form a batter.
Gentle heat a non-stick frying pan, melting a little coconut oil or butter. Drop heaped tablespoons of mixture into the pan, leaving enough space in between. Allow to cook for a few minutes before turning each pancake over.
These are a lot smaller but still amazing with your favourite toppings. With so many to choose from, here are a few ideas for you to try:
• The popular sprinkle of sugar and lemon.
• A drizzle of honey and ice cream.
• Fresh berries and Greek yoghurt.
• Warm cherries and ice cream.
• Chopped bananas and fromage frais.
• Melted dark organic chocolate with sliced strawberries.
There is no limit to the variations that you can have, don’t forget to indulge and enjoy every last mouthful.
Why not share your favourite pancake creation in the comments boxes below? The Zest For Life team would love to hear your recipes.
With the cold weather creeping in, it is time to get all snuggled up and keep warm. Here is another one of my favourite soups, Leek and Potato, simple and delicious.
• 3 large leeks
• 800g potatoes
• 25g butter
• 2 organic vegetable stock cubes
• 100mls oat milk/ rice milk
• Salt and pepper
• Water as needed
Slice the leeks and place in a large stock pan with the butter. On a gentle heat, allow the leeks to brown slightly and release their flavour. Peel all the potatoes and dice. Then place in the pan with the leeks. Fill the pan with water so the potatoes and leeks are just covered. Add the stock cubes, salt and pepper.
Cover the pan and leave on a moderate heat. The soup usually takes about 30-40 mins to cook through. Check that the potatoes are soft and when ready, switch off the heat. Leave it to cool slightly for 5-10 mins. Using a hand blender, blitz through the soup until it is nice and smooth.
Please be careful not to get splashed. If you would like the soup to be chunky, allow less time to blend the ingredients. At this point, add the oat milk. This gives it a lovely creamy taste. Normal milk can be used if preferred. You might like to add more salt and pepper to flavour.
Place the soup back on a low heat and gently heat through again for a few minutes. Serve with a few pieces of your favourite bread.
Tip: Soup is perfect to save in containers to serve as a hearty lunch the next day and will keep for a few days in the fridge. That is if you can resist the temptation to have second helpings!
With the cold weather creeping in, it is time to get all snuggled up and keep warm. Here is one of my favourite comforting soups that is both filling and healthy. The perfect recipe to keep you warm this winter.
• 1 large onion
• 3-4 carrots
• 2 leeks
• 3 parsnips
• 2 garlic cloves crushed
• 2 chicken stock cubes
• 227g red lentils
• 1 can mixed beans
• 1 can green lentils
• 1 can of baked beans
• Mixed herbs to taste
• Fresh thyme
• 2 bay leaves
• Season with salt and pepper.
Tip: You will need a very large pan or slow cooker.
Peel and chop all your veggies, place in the pan. Add the garlic and stock cubes. Open the all the tins, draining and rinsing the mixed beans and the green lentils. Place the baked beans, chopped tomatoes, mixed beans and green lentils in to the pan. Do not add the red lentils yet! Throw in the herbs and bay leaves.
Fill the pan with water until all the contents is covered, bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 45 mins. It is best making this in a slow cooker, then you can put it on in the morning and leave to simmer through out the day. Back to the pan, when all the veggies are soft you can add the red lentils.
Leave it to brew for another 15 to 20 mins. Season to taste. When using the slow cooker, add the lentils about an hour before serving. Season with salt and pepper at this point as well. You may want to add more herbs to flavour. The soup will be quite thick and chunky, really nice with a big pieces of rye bread to dip in!
Everybody has different skin types, and I happen to have a ridiculously oily complexion.
I am skin lucky, in that I rarely get spots and only break-out after excess drinking or eating really badly. But I can see the excess oil glistening on my forehead and nose, sitting on top of my skin in a sheen, and my nose is completely clogged with blackheads.
Tired of having a constantly greasy face, I used Google to find things that are supposed to help and discovered that charcoal, tea tree oil and witch hazel remove oil from your face. The reason for this, is that charcoal attracts dirt and oil, so it pulls it off your face and out from your pores to clean your skin, whilst tea tree and witch hazel soothe the skin and help to keep it clear.
While in my local Boots, I started looking for charcoal based products and I happily stumbled across both a facial wash and face mask from their range that were a combination of all three ingredients I wanted; Tea Tree, Witch Hazel and Activated Charcoal. I’m not suggesting that you have to use the Boots brand, any product that has a combination of these ingredients would likely help, but this is an affordable range with both products priced between £3-£5.
The facial wash is thick and dark grey, not as easy to get off as other face washes because of its thick texture but it can still be used as an everyday wash. I usually put the face wash on and leave it for around three minutes while I brush my teeth, then lather it up with warm water and wash it off. The face mask comes in a little bottle, but because the product is so thick a small amount goes a long way. The texture is similar to the facial wash, except the face mask dries out easily while you leave it for fifteen minutes and has often hardened by the time you wash it off.
I have noticed most immediate results with the face mask, which I use once a week, but have found that both products make a difference to my oily skin. After using both products my skin feels dried out (but in a good way, if you have oily skin too you’ll know what I mean!) and the traces of excess oil have been removed from my skin.
If you have oily skin, I would definitely recommend trying some sort of charcoal-based product to help remove it. I’m not promising that it works for everyone because skin types are so different, but my skin always feels soft and smooth and more balanced after I use it.
The journey of life has many twists and turns, in a negative world it is hard to stay upbeat and positive but remember this – every day you have a choice. You choose whether you want to be optimistic or pessimistic, see the best in everything or complain about how bad your day is. Positivity is a state of mind and you are in control of how you think. You choose your own reality, if you want to transform your life and power up your positivity, follow these simple steps.
1. Live In The Present – Don’t drift between the past and the future. You can’t change the past and you can’t predict the future, live for each day and you will appreciate every moment and experience gratitude for the little things in your life that make you happy.
2. Be More Aware – The difference between those who see the positive over the negative lies in their observations. Be aware of the messages you tell yourself and the natural direction of your thoughts. We’re not always concious of our negative thoughts, paying close attention to how you instantly react to certain situations will help to change the way you think.
3. Surround Yourself With Positive People – Toxic situations are the biggest influence on a negative mind. The more negativity you surround yourself with, the more likely it is to effect you. Studies have shown that being around positive person can influence you in the same way, maintain your sunny disposition by only having positive thinkers in your life.
4. Get Up Early, Be Ready For The Day – The early bird catches the worm! Make the most of every minute of your day. Start your day with optimism and give yourself plenty of time to relax before you start your long to-do list for the day. Enjoy the little things, whether it’s your first cup of tea, watching your favourite TV show or taking your dog for a walk, look forward to something every day, it’s the perfect way to power up your positivity!
5. Dream Big, Think Big, Act Big – Find something you are passionate about, choose something you really love doing and stick with it until you achieve your goals. Do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality, believe that you can do anything and never ever give up!
6. Say Yes – Great things happen when you begin to say “yes” to life. You enjoy life more. You take more risks, which means you grow faster. Saying “yes” to life allows you to live up to your potential and enjoy the journey at the same time.
7. Talk To Yourself – Engage in uplifting conversations with yourself. Don’t tell yourself what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Don’t drown yourself with unnecessary self-criticism, if you give yourself a pep talk in the mirror every morning, you will feel happier in your own skin.
8. Be Kind To Others – Doing something positive for another person can make you feel good. Studies have shown that being kind is the key to a happier wellbeing, seek opportunities in your daily life to be kind to those around you.
9. Find Peace In The Chaos – It’s a face-paced world that we live in, it’s sometimes hard to find peace in the chaos. Find something that you enjoy doing that relaxes you and spend half an hour a day to yourself. Learn to meditate, practice yoga, colour or even have a bubble bath and light some candles. Don’t forget to breathe!
10. Stop Comparing – Comparing yourself to others will only allow you to focus on what you aren’t, rather than enjoying who you are or thinking about who you can be. Your journey is different to everyone else’s, focus on your path and go through life at your own pace.
• 500g Butternut Squash
• 2 Carrots
• 1 White Onion
• 2 Red Chillies
• 2 Green Chillies
• 2tbsp Coriander
• 1x 400g Tin of Coconut Milk
• 2tbsp Tomato Puree
• 3tbsp Red Curry Paste
• 1tsp Turmeric
• 1tbsp Coconut Oil
• Pinch of Salt
• 150g Green Beans
• Large handful of Spinach leaves.
Start by peeling and chopping the butternut squash and carrots, making sure they are nice and chunky. Set aside. Chop the onion and place in a deep frying pan with the coconut oil, add a pinch of salt. While this is browning, de-seed the chillies and pop them in the pan to cook through.
After a few minutes you need to add the squash and carrots. Leave the veggies to stir-fry for a few minutes and begin to prep the sauce. In a blender, put in the coconut milk, tomato purée , red curry paste, coriander and turmeric. When blitzed together, pour the sauce in the pan and stir it in with the vegetables.
Chop the green beans in to 2 inch lengths, add these to the pan. Leave the curry to simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash and carrots are tender. When ready, stir in the spinach leaves and allow to cook through for a few minutes.
Serve with a portion of cooked brown rice or try making your own cauliflower rice, this is delicious! Enjoy.
Autumn is here and the days are glorious with a golden glow lighting up the sky. The morning air even smells like autumn. The nights are drawing in and soon the winter weather will descend. With the cold creeping in, we all start to snuggle up on the sofa and get comfy. It is that time of year when lots of celebrations and festivities happen. Personally, I adore this time of the year. First Halloween, then bonfire night and then the countdown to Christmas starts – exciting!
What comes with this? Sticky toffee apples, Parkin, warm cider, hotpots, Baileys, mince pies, hot chocolate … the list goes on. All so tempting, this gorgeous array of delights is comforting and makes us feel so good! Sadly, though, they are not healthy and prompt us to pile on the winter pounds that are hard to lose for summer. Along with this, the autumn and winter months can get us quite down in the dumps. Perhaps you are one of the many that gets a dose of the Winter Blues?
Smile, though! These are not things that we cannot deal with. There are always choices and better options. There are foods that are excellent for boosting your moods. Foods that can make you feel good, keeping the waist line slim whilst maintaining a balanced diet. Guess what? You can still have your cake and eat it! It isn’t rocket science. There are just a few tips and tricks to learn, so here is a bit of useful information to help.
Most people during spring/summer are on a more positive note, with the longer days and warmer weather. Looking forward to those holidays by the pool, the gorgeous summer clothes that hit the shops. We are motivated to exercise more and get outside. This all contributes to the feel good factor. With all this excitement going on your body doesn’t notice one crucial change to your lifestyle; your diet.
By wanting to shed the pounds for the warmer weather, people tend to cut down on carbohydrates and may even eliminate them, with an increase in protein being the leaner option. This is all good stuff and great for leading a healthy life but it does have its side effects. Following a low-carb diet for long periods of time can have quite a negative impact on your mood. The high levels of protein can suppress the levels of serotonin that gets to your brain. Amino acids found in protein compete with tryptophan, the amino acid which is converted into serotonin. In turn, your overall mood is lowered.
So with all the summer buzz behind us, the feel good factor has dwindled away with the prospect of the dark and colder months, what is left are the low serotonin levels and the body’s craving to feel good. It’s no secret that food makes us feel amazing. Why else would we crave the large piece of chocolate fudge cake and the latte when we need a pick-me-up? That packet of luxury biscuits lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard quietly calling your name after an argument? The ginger nuts that you dunk in a sweet cuppa tea when you have had a bad day?
They all make you feel good, right? There is a reason that we turn to comfort foods when were are stressed or low. It is proven that certain foods can alter your brain’s chemistry, in turn making us feel happy. Unfortunately, we all reach for the wrong foods, usually the sugary and starchy variety. High carbohydrate foods allow the brain to be flooded with tryptophan, giving us a huge boost of Serotonin. The serotonin is a neurotransmitter that curbs cravings, helps us sleep and puts you in a great mood!
There are lots of really good carbs that are great for this job role. Introducing some of these delicious foods whilst reducing your fat and protein intake can help in all areas, keeping you healthy and happy. Balance appears to be the key once again. What we need to understand is that our body’s needs do change with the seasons and adapt to different environments. It is instinct to go for more comforting and filling foods during autumn and winter, ensuring the body gets enough energy to keep us warm. Done correctly, we can still follow our winter cycle, stay happy and not put on any weight.
So what should we eat? Believe it or not, all the foods perfect for our body’s needs at this time of the year are all in season. Lots of berries, dark green vegetables, red peppers and tomatoes are a good starting point, being high in vitamin C. Great for making neurotransmitters that affect your mind and mood, vitamin C is definitely a positive intake during the colder months.
There are plenty of places to go berry picking at this time of the year, a great way to get out and about in the fresh air. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries are in plentiful supply, and are gorgeous when teamed up with Bramley apples. Apple and berry crumble is a great, comforting treat to tuck into at the end of the day, especially when served with some Greek Yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. Add some of these lovely berries to your breakfast bowl of warm porridge, serve alongside some healthy pancakes; any excuse to get them into your diet!
Introducing some dark green vegetables like savoy cabbage, broccoli and sprouts is another positive step. This not only increases your vitamin C levels but is great for iron. Fill your plates with lots of winter vegetables and notice how good you start to feel. Your energy will increase and your skin will thank you for it. Increasing your intake of omega-3 has been proven to level out your moods. Fish can be associated with the warmer seasons, served with salads and cooked on BBQ’s, but they also suit the colder months. Marinade salmon with chillies and honey, wrapped in foil to bake in the oven … warm and fiery. Mackerel and sardines are other great sources of omega-3. They may not be a popular choice, but give them a try! If the fishy way isn’t for you, don’t fret – Omega-3 is available in capsules to get the recommended dose that you need.
All the traditional dishes associated with the winter months are great at serving you the nutrition you need to keep you energised, warm and happy. Lots of stews, hotpots and soups. Great comfort foods. A few slices of rye bread to mop up the gravy or dip in your soup is a tasty option. Don’t be afraid to add some red meat; its benefits have been knocked down over the years but one great fact remains … it is an amazing source of iron for the body! It has another great trait as well. Not only does it provide iron, but the iron contained in the meat called heme helps the body to absorb the iron from plants consumed with it. Team up your winter greens with some beef stew and you are on the road to success!
A few goodies that are famous at this time of the year prove to be excellent for fending of the Winter Blues and keeping us cosy. Maybe this is why they are famous! Jacket potatoes, pumpkins, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, leeks and apples. Add them to your dishes. There are so many different recipes for the use of pumpkins … soups, pies, cakes, pureed and added to your morning porridge. They are not given the chance to shine and share their health benefits. Dissected and carved in to Halloween lanterns, the edible bits are discarded. No more! Give the Pumpkin a chance.
Leek and potato soup was one of my favourites as a little girl. It might be the fact that my Mum makes it so tasty that it puts a smile on my face, but it is still a great mood boosting dish. Experiment with your cooking; see what makes you smile. Add a few of the suggestions above to your dishes and surprise yourself. With so many free healthy recipes available on the world wide web, have a Google to see what comes up. Butternut squash and carrot mash might be an option as a new topping for your Shepherd’s Pie instead of lacing it with cheese. Try swapping your flour for spelt flour so you can make the famous pumpkin loaf that you make every year. Use organic dark chocolate to cover the apples instead of a sticky sugary coating. The kids will still love it and their bodies will, too.
With a little know-how and some wise choices, you can still enjoy this time of the year and tuck into your favourites. With healthier options, there will be room to enjoy a mince pie and a glass of Baileys at Christmas … Well, that’s my plan!